Lewis Ritchie scandal could ‘drag council into pantomime’

Lewis Ritchie is under pressure to resign
Lewis Ritchie is under pressure to resign

Edinburgh City Council is in danger of being dragged into a “pantomime” by the Lewis Ritchie affair, one concerned councillor fears.

Liberal Democrat Hal Osler was speaking ahead of Thursday’s full council meeting which Cllr Ritchie is expected to attend as an Independent to safeguard his seat for the next six months.

The Evening News last week exclusively reported details of two sexual harassment claims against Cllr Ritchie after he quit the SNP group.

Cllr Ritchie denies both claims and blames a political smear for the allegations – with his resignation leaving his former party colleagues tied with the Tories on 18 members.

Inverleith member Cllr Osler said: “Quite frankly I’m horrified and pretty appalled as a new member and a female of a certain age.”

Referring to reports Cllr Ritchie had punched a male colleague while in the back of a taxi at October’s SNP conference, she said: “I’m a little upset at what’s come out at the end versus what was reported at the beginning.

“A punch-up in a car was what was reported at first and I’m a little confused at the message it sends that that was somehow worse that the other things that have come to light.

“I don’t have any personal feelings for the individual involved, but I feel he needs help and support and I don’t think this will be doing much for his mental wellbeing.

“I’m a little disappointed at the poor support for the other individuals involved, the alleged victims, that they’ve had to come out and say something – I think it reflects poorly on all of us. We should take a really long, hard look at ourselves. We really need to do better, particularly because these people are in the public eye so should behave in a proper and responsible way.

Asked if Cllr Ritchie should stand down from the Leith Walk ward after quitting the SNP, Cllr Osler added: “I think he should look at himself – if he’s not suitable, he’s not suitable.”

And of Cllr Ritchie’s appearance on Thursday, she added: “I think it will be very difficult for him. If I come across him, I’ll treat him with respect and as a human being.

“We’re here to make decisions for people and this risks making us look like a pantomime at the end of the day – we have plenty of other things to discuss.”

Cllr Ritchie stepping down from the SNP means “it’s very difficult” for his accusers to get satisfaction and the whole saga has been “handled very poorly”, added Cllr Osler.

The Tories , meanwhile, called on Cllr Ritchie to stand down immediately, which would trigger a by-election in the Leith Walk ward.

Cllr Sue Webber said: “I’m sure that many Edinburgh residents have read the stories in the Evening News regarding Lewis Ritchie’s behaviour and have been appalled. It’s clear that his conduct on several occasions was grossly inappropriate, and it raises serious questions over whether he is fit to be a councillor.

“Given the nature of these incidents I would not be surprised if a lot of councillors and staff did not feel comfortable working with him – and it’s time he stood down and put an end to this sorry saga.”